Waterspout scare on our way to Kyushu

As detailed in our last post, we had to leave Yakushima on Monday morning due to the spring tide during which our boat would have hit the bottom of the port basin. The wind forecasts promised a nice 15-knot wind from the southwest, which was great, and the Japanese marine forecast called for fair weather with “isolated thunderstorms”, which is pretty much the normal forecast on most days in this subtropical area during the summer. As we’ve mentioned in a previous post, while nobody likes these isolated thunderstorms, with some alert helmsmanship we are mostly able to sail around them. That is what we expected to be able to do also on Monday, and even though the skies seemed gray, we took off a bit after 6 am in the morning having first waited out one rain shower.

The journey started well, as it seemed that we would be able to follow a course that would see us duck the imminent rain clouds. However, only an hour into the journey, the skies grew darker and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a way around the gray clouds. We did our very best, but the sky nevertheless offered us bucketloads of water and some excitement in the form of lightning and thunder. We threw our handheld GPS, two of our three handheld VHF radios, two of our mobile phones and our satellite phone into the microwave just to be on the safe side – even though everything and everyone inside our boat should in theory be safe from lightning as our boat acts as one big Faraday cage, boat electronics are notoriously very vulnerable to breakage due to lightning and we wanted to ensure we had backup systems still functional in case lightning struck (the microwave acts as a further Faraday cage keeping the smaller equipment intact – or so the theory goes).

We had already endured several hours of on and off thunder, lightning and rain – not to mention minimal visibility, so our radios were in full use that day – when we noticed a strange formation beneath one of the storm clouds. It was one of the scariest natural phenomena to witness from a boat at sea, a waterspout! Waterspouts are tornado-like formations reaching down from a cloud and stirring up the water that they touch. Fortunately the “waterspout cloud” was some way away from us and we were going in a different direction. However, as the conditions for the formation of waterspouts appeared to exist in the area, we kept a worried eye on the sky for the rest of the way. It was a very stressed-out and exhausted crew who finally arrived in Makurazaki on the Kyushu island in the evening!

Due to the terror of that day, we would have liked to stay in Makurazaki for one full day and get some rest. We tied onto the only floating pontoon in the port (due to the tides, floating pontoons are hugely better than being tied up to a concrete wall) and secured our lines and fenders in the right position, only to then be told to move onto the concrete wall because fishing vessels would use the floating pontoon to unload their catch during the night. This request was of course understandable, and working boats naturally always should have priority, but somewhat to our surprise, we were also told that despite the space all around us, we could stay tied up to the concrete wall for “one night”. Makurazaki has been the only place so far where we have not felt welcome. We slept there for the promised one night, and said goodbye to the port the next morning.

Gray skies looming over us…
…and here comes the rain.
This we did not want to see…
…a waterspout!


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